Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Spiritual Work Season

It's Ash Wednesday, so I am beginning my "spiritual work season." It's time to get in shape and -- for once -- I'm not talking about my body!

A few years ago, I was inspired by the movie Pay it Forward, although it does have a difficult ending. It wasn't a new idea, of course, but the catchy phrase has helped the concept find new life. I know that the venerable and prolific American sage, Ben Franklin, was a fan of the approach -- he wrote about it in 1784.

To Benjamin Webb: A New Method of repaying Money lent.

Passy, 22 April 1784

Dear Sir,

. . . The account they give of your situation grieves me. I send you herewith a bill for ten louis d’ors. I do not pretend to give such a sum; I only lend it to you. When you shall return to your country with a good character, you cannot fail of getting into some business, that will in time enable you to pay all your debts. In that case, when you meet with another honest man in similar distress, you must pay me by lending this sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with such another opportunity. I hope it may thus go through many hands, before it meets with a knave that will stop its progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. I am not rich enough to afford much in good works, and so am obliged to be cunning and make the most of a little. With best wishes for the success of your memorial, and your future prosperity, I am, dear Sir, your most obedient servant,

B. Franklin.1

I have been thinking about a variety of ways - not necessarily monetary ones - to "pay it forward." Here's the short list:
I really want to make a difference and I'm aware that the world is closer than -- as they say -- "at my doorstep;" it's at my feet! My goal is to demonstrate to my children that showing gratitude has a lot of faces, and not all of them are green dead presidents. It's about having an attitude of appreciation; it's stepping forward; it's claiming my place in the world as a contributor.

And . . it's remembering all of my own gifts when doing all or any of that seems too challenging. So now you know why I call it the "Spiritual Work Season." It was a season in need of a verb!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mixed Blessings. . .

I grew up in a household of cliche-speakers. Phrases such as, "make hay while the sun shines," and "no use crying over spilt milk" were common fodder of everyday conversation. Unconsciously these sayings and beliefs became a part of my vernacular.

The other day, I heard myself say, "It's a mixed blessing." Hold the phone! What is a mixed blessing, anyway?

Some people would say a mixed blessing is something that has it's good and bad points. Which, one could argue, is true of almost anything. But when we say something is a "mixed blessing," what are we really saying?

Basically, we're saying no. No thank you, no I won't have any, no, no, no! Because a blessing is a blessing. And a mixed blessing is one to which we are saying "no."

I like the theory that every gift of life is a blessing, even the ones we don't like at first. Even the ones that are hard. Maybe especially the ones that are hard. And that our challenge as humans is to see that the so-called-mixed-blessings are our refining fire. If I am willing to walk through that fire, then what emerges with me at the other side is pure gold; pure blessing, if you will!


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Keeping Your Head Above Water

The other day someone said to me, "I'm just focused on keeping my head above water." We've all been there: the work is piled up, the stress accumulates, the debts mount up and suddenly we slip into survival mode.

"I'm just keeping my head above water." The statement struck me.
As someone who's spent a lot of time in the pool lately, I can tell you unequivocally that if you are keeping your head above water, you are not swimming.

Swimming is getting your face wet; it's letting the water hold your weight; it's trusting your body and your learning and Life or God or -- if you will -- fate. It's choosing to propel yourself forward. It's momentum. It's the opposite of standing still. Whether you are choosing to go with the current or go against it, you are taking an active part in changing your situation.

It's a choice every day - every hour - every minute: Will I swim -- focusing my energies on where I want to go -- or will I tread water and try to survive? Fair enough, sometimes I may need to check the depth of the water I'm in or get some instruction or special equipment. But in the end, it's really just a straightforward choice backed up by action. So what will it be, keeping your "head above water" or swimming?

Come on in, the water's fine!